2021: the 2nd corona year, the last year of my 3rd decade, and the year when I learn patience
Another Christmas just passed, which means it is time for my annual review. Before the year has ended, I sit down in front of an empty word document and try remembering what happened in 2021. 2021 was a long year! I guess many things happened, but also many did not. I was given the chance to learn patience and to accept that some things take time. It sounds very unspecific, but the story behind this is about a personal project we started and could not finish this year. So, it is not to be told yet. Leaving the personal stuff aside, my professional year was about finishing work – couple of projects ended, so there were a lot of reports or papers to be pushed out. The last months have also been about coming in peace with the thought that this may be my last research job. My contract with GEUS ends next March, so it was inevitable to think about the future. I hope to be able to stay working there, but I also had to imagine a future in which I am saying goodbye. In many ways 2021 feels like the end of a cycle in my life. I turn 40 next August, so perhaps that is also part of it, my awesome 30s are finishing and I am entering in a new, more grown-up, phase. Settling down and being a proper adult.
As part of the annual MUS-samtalen (medarbejderudviklingssamtalen, eng.: the employee development interview) I had to overview my professional development, and the first question was:
What tasks have you spent most time on and what goals have you accomplished?
I will reuse my answer here, maybe it is a bit dry, but it should serve the purpose. This should give you an idea about the type of things I’ve been busy with.
Published peer-reviewed papers
If we consider published articles as accomplished goals, then in 2021, I’ve published 7 papers, of which 3 as a first author. Some of the work on these papers was done during 2020, but the peer-review process takes months. Click on the links for more information, if you have no access, please drop me an e-mail & I’ll send you a pdf.
First author papers:
– Roadmap for Determining Natural Background Levels of Trace Metals in Groundwater (Water)
– Estimating pesticides in public drinking water at the household level in Denmark (GEUS Bulletin)
– A high-resolution nitrate vulnerability assessment of sandy aquifers (DRASTIC-N) (Journal of Environmental Management)
– Trace Elements in Drinking Water and the Incidence of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology)
– A Broad-Scale Method for Estimating Natural Background Levels of Dissolved Components in Groundwater Based on Lithology and Anthropogenic Pressure (Water)
– Drinking Water Criteria for Arsenic in High-Income, Low-Dose Countries: The Effect of Legislation on Public Health (Environmental Science and Technology)
– Assessment of complex subsurface redox structures for sustainable development of agriculture and the environment (Environmental Research Letters)
Accepted peer-reviewed papers
In the last couple of weeks, we got the decision letters for two other papers, where I am a co-author.
– Assessment of chloride natural background levels by applying statistical approaches. Analyses of European coastal aquifers in different environments (Marine Pollution Bulletin)
– Flowpath influence on stream acid events in Tropical urban streams in Singapore (Hydrological processes)
I will write more about these when they are officially out.
Under preparation or in review
I have contributed as a co-author to few other papers that are currently either in preparation or in review. My contribution varies depending on the paper, but mostly covers the data-preparation, analyses, writing parts of the methods and results sections, as a minimum.
– Geographical distribution and patterns of pesticides in Danish drinking water 2002-2018: reducing complexity (in review)
– Terminologies and characteristics of natural mineral and thermal waters in 14 European countries (in review)
– An overview of arsenic and fluoride distribution in groundwaters with health perspective at geological pan-European scale (submitted)
– Exposure to nitrate in drinking water from private wells (in prep)
– Effect of regulation on pesticides in groundwater (in prep)
– Exposure to PFAS from drinking water at public waterworks (in prep)
Next to the work on all these papers, which are in various stages, I also spent considerable amount of time working on the prioritization tool for implementing the N-map concept (MapField project). The report is going through final quality checks and will be made publicly available in January. It is with a GEUS number from 2021, so it will count as a 2021 publication, I guess. I am not sure, as this is the first time I am leading author of GEUS report. The work involved a lot of GIS data-analyses and preparation of various maps, as well as participation in workshops and meetings with stakeholders and experts. We have been working on this for the entire 2021. It started as a small task to be finished in 1-3 moths, and it kept on dragging for a whole year. I think I’ve personally re-done all analyses 5-6 times + redid all maps for the report, as we changed concept or because we found better source-data. Maybe the report will turn into a paper, but it is not mine to write, so let’s see when and if it will happen. The project leader (and my informal supervisor) is on this task.
In general, in 2021, I spend most of my time on data-preparation (cleaning and formatting) for different projects and different people. The rest of the time I spent on writing of papers (or parts of papers) or preparing project proposals. I prepared and submitted a DFF-Sapere Aude proposal about the paradigm shift in drinking water treatment in Denmark. It took me a lot of time to write this proposal, mostly because I have little experience writing proposals. Unfortunately, the proposal was unsuccessful. The silver lining is that parts of it were used for DFF-Project 2 proposal, which we submitted later this year, but is not led by me. I should not have even tried applying for DFF-Sapere Aude, because as I learned later, my CV was not good enough, and that is not something I can fix. There were of course other issues, but because of the CV insufficiency, we decided that someone else with a better, more appropriate CV, should lead the revised proposal, or a proposal on a similar topic. After all, I am glad that some parts of my proposal ended in the new one, which is much better. I have hope we will get the funding, but we will hear next year.
We’ve also joined a consortium for HORIZON 2022 (Zero Pollution 01-01 call), but it is too early to write about this.
I wrote my first paper in Danish for the magazine Vand & Jord. I think this is a big milestone for me, as up to now, I was reading different reports or regulation documents in Danish, but never wrote anything… except a code documentation once… This time, I had to summarize (in Danish!) our GEUS Bulleting paper on pesticides in Danish groundwater (see above). My co-authors are currently revising for language, and I am curious to see how much of my text will be re-written. The submission deadline is in mid-January.
I passed the FVU-Dansk, level 1 standardized exam, which was easy, but since I was signed in level 1 at FOF Aarhus, to move to level 2, I had to pass the exam. No jumping levels. I’ve been going every Monday from 5 to 8 pm to lessons, in a small group (10 ppl max). It works. I am continuing with this next year. I may even start going to some extra classes focused on communication. These are all offered for free, so I see no disadvantage.
On the courses topic – I also attended a Coursera course on Machine Learning, which took considerable amount of time, but I was not very satisfied by the focus of the course, as it was mostly about optimization of models (or combining of models to get better results). I was hoping to be more applied, relevant to the kind of tasks we have at the department. At the end of the day, it helps understand better what other people are doing, but it did not make me jump into doing it myself.
I started managing the social media accounts of the department. I did push for the idea that we need to be more present online, so people outside our department know what we do. There were mixed opinions about it, and since it was my idea, I got to do the actual managing of the LinkedIn and twitter accounts. It is going slowly, but also, we are not taking it too seriously now/yet, I think. I also developed something like a social media strategy (or guideline) on what/when/how we should use the accounts.
Probably I am omitting something work-related, as I said 2021 was a long year.
Travelling, family, hobbies
I have difficulties recollecting when 2021 was about lockdown, work-from-home only and when it became more about hybrid working (mix home vs office). The only travelling we did this year was to Belgium and Bulgaria, to visit our families. We spent 10 days in the summer in Bulgaria, where I found my parents have kept some bad health-news from me. It was a strange summer, as Niels and I had a lot of fun with my brother at the coast, but also there was this shadow of sadness and worry. We managed to get together the whole “familia”, where my cousin made the most memorable BBQ and I got to spend few hours with my fast-growing nephew. He’s a fully formed human being now, a miniature version, but still… Sometimes I feel bad that I don’t see him more often, but that’s how it is. Especially with the travelling restrictions, and the risks of spreading the virus even more. We also spent few days (maybe a week) in Belgium with Niels’ family. Biked around, ate some food (waffles), drank some beer. We managed to squeeze some sight-seeing in both trips. We are starved for culture, as the corona lockdowns hit first the museums and galleries in Denmark. It is a bit unfair, as I see no difference between a supermarket crowd vs museum crowd. We were supposed to see the Nutcracker on 30th Dec – canceled. I wanted to see the new exhibitions in AROS – closed due to corona. It’s been on/off the entire 2021. Culture is important, but it seems that not as important as food in the eyes of the regulators.
2021 was an unusual year in comparison with the rest of my third decade. It is the first year with almost no travelling. The hole left by the travelling was filled with new hobbies, reading of books, and watching of series.
The hobbies I picked up this year were: linoleum-printing, corona-collages, and petit point embroidery. I am battling the idea that not everything I do should bring “profit” or should be “work-related”, so while I enjoy spending time with these activities, sometimes it feels like a waste of time. I do it just for my own sanity, and it is not really something I can monetize. Even though it would be great if it could. Next to these few things, I also keep on taking photos for my Instagram, where I document moments worth documenting. And I still haven’t finished knitting a blanket I started 2 years ago! It is on my Christmas activities list, though. I completed a 30 Day Map Challenge!
I finished reading/listening to 9 books this year (in this order, I give also the language in which I read them):
1. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (eng) by Haruki Murakami
2. Killing Commendatore (eng) by Haruki Murakami
3. A Wild Sheep Chase (eng) by Haruki Murakami
4. Redshirts (eng) by John Scalzi
5. Bombay-blues (dk) by Trisse Gejl (listening + e-book)
6. Mændene i Mit Liv (dk) by Sofia Rönnow Pessah (listening + e-book)
7. Men Without Women (eng) by Haruki Murakami
8. After Dark (eng) by Haruki Murakami
9. The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People (bg) by Meik Wiking
As you can see, 2021 was a Haruki Murakami year. There are few more of his books left, but I am currently taking a break from his world. Right now I am trying to read a Bulgarian book I got for Christmas from my mom (Глина by Виктория Бешлийска), and during December we have been reading together with Niels (to each other) “The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories from Hans Christian Andersen to Angela Carter” edited by Jessica Harrison. We read one story (or half if it is too long) every day. So far, we are half through the book and I think it is a great way to do something together that is different from watching series.
On the topic of series… I have watched a lot of different things, some worth spending time, some pure waste of time. I’ll focus here on the best series I watched this year (in this order):
I started this text vaguely and will end it on the same note. 2022 will be about new beginnings in more than one way, but it is too early to see the full extend. I wish we finish our personal project successfully. In any case, our lives will be different from what they were in the past two corona years, and in the past decade, when we moved around the world for jobs. This is over now, we are here to stay, and this is maybe the biggest change that has happened in the past year.
Workwise, I have a small wish list:
– Project management course – I am a bit fed up with being seen as a human-calculator. A way out of this position is to either get my own funding or get more into project management. I could also continue doing data-related stuff and just cruise through 2022, that is if I am still at GEUS after March.
– Python for spatial analyses – I am quite happy with R for all the data-wrangling and statistics, but I still do all my mapping in QGIS. Maybe it is time to get into Python or start mapping in R too. The goal is to use entirely reproducible (and automated) workflows, which are also well documented. Takes time, though…
– Danish – I continue improving, and the goal is to get my work-Danish to the same level as my English, so I could maybe switch effortlessly to working in Danish. So far, however, this has not been the case. It takes me more effort/time to work in Danish, than in English, so it has not been possible.
That’s all for this year annual review. Next year – more, maybe also more personal.